The leading causes of death of women age 50 and older worldwide are heart
disease, stroke and cancer, officials at the World Health Organization in Geneva
However, Dr. John Beard, director of the WHO's Department of Ageing and Life Course and one of the authors of the study, says in developing countries these deaths occur at earlier ages than in the developed world and this gap in life expectancy between women in rich and poor countries is growing.
"Given the substantial reduction in maternal mortality and the increase in the number of older women over the last 10 years, health systems in low- and middle-income countries must adjust accordingly, otherwise this trend will continue to increase," Beard said in a statement.
"Changing women's exposures at earlier stages of their lives, particularly in relation to sexual health, tobacco and harmful use of alcohol, is essential to reversing the epidemic of chronic diseases."
There are known and cost-effective ways to address these common non-communicable diseases, including prevention, early diagnosis and management of high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol and screening for cancer.
Developed countries have taken measures to address these conditions over the last 20-30 years and fewer women age 50 and older are dying from heart disease, stroke and diabetes and these health improvements contributed most to increasing women's life expectancy at the age of 50, the WHO report says.
At age 50, women in Germany and Japan gained 3.5 years in life expectancy -- thanks to improvements in these health areas -- and can today expect to live to 84-88, but in Mexico and the Russian Federation, the life expectancy of 50-year-old women increased more slowly, by 2.4 and 1.2 years, so they can expect to live to the age of 80 and 78 years, the study says.
The findings are published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization.
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